After 93 games, cold Wednesday nights in New Jersey and Minnesota, Sunday afternoon showdowns with the Lakers and Heat, riveting playoff series with the Nuggets and Grizzlies, the Thunder arrives here.
A season-defining game.
Game 7 of this Memphis brawl, Game 7 of this wow!-huh?-wow! Western Conference semifinal, is at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and will define this Thunder team.
Win, it's a great season. A landmark season.
Lose, it's a disappointing season. Hard to pin that label on a bunch of guys still younger than some of Eddie Sutton's old OSU teams. Tough love for a franchise that won all of 23 games just two years ago.
But it's true. Get to a Game 7 with homecourt advantage, and nothing shy of victory will suffice.
Nothing against the Grizzlies. They're not a fluke. Memphis has a ballteam on its hands. As Brooks said, in the playoffs, “you lose, it's not the end of the world. The other team has just as much talent as you have.”
But only one team gets to host Game 7. Playing Game 7 on the road usually is a death sentence and should be today.
Which makes victory mandatory for the Thunder to feel good about this season. Not talking about the future. This season.
The 55 wins. The Kevin Durant scoring championship. The Russell Westbrook all-NBA laurel. The Kendrick Perkins attitude transformation.
All great steps for down the road. But to stamp this season as a success, the Thunder must beat Memphis.
“Quite obviously, how you finish is how you're remembered,” Nick Collison admitted. “We want to win as far as we can.”
Win this game, and the Thunder suddenly is playing with the same house money the Grizzlies, as the West's eighth seed, use in this series.
Win this game, and the Thunder has sufficiently placed Memphis below OKC on the food chain of West contenders.
Win this game, and Scotty Brooks' coaching style — steady as she goes, no tossing stuff against the wall — is ratified.
Lose this game, and it barely harms the Thunder future. Won't cast the Boomers as frauds. Losing doesn't mean an NBA title is a distant wish.
But as far as the future, beating Memphis accelerates the Sam Presti plan. Make the NBA's Final Four with your four leading scorers all under 23 years old? The dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
“Our window's not closing,” Brooks said. “No question it would be a great win for our organization. We're excited about playing it.”
But, he said, “I don't think it defines our season.”